Immigrant Stories: Joel Nava

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Immigrant Stories: Joel Nava

Joel Nava, who was born in 1959 in Mexico City, Mexico, grew up in a big family with 10 siblings.  Joel attended the Instituto Politecnico Nacional, where he earned a degree in business administration. He then had a successful career working for the Mexican government as chief of the Office of Land Reform from 1982 to 1988.  During these years, Joel also married his wife, Josephina, and they began a family of their own. 

Joel describes their move to the United States as a happy accident. While visiting his brother in the United States on a tourist visa in 1988, Joel began to consider the potential advantages of seeking a new life for his family.  In the late 1980s, violence in Mexico was on the rise. Seeing greater opportunity for his children in the U.S., he convinced Josephina to move with their sons to Houston, Texas, in 1996.  Shortly after their move, Joel and Josephina welcomed their daughter to the world.

The transition to life in the U.S. was difficult for Joel as he did not speak any English at all. However, he was determined to provide the best resources and opportunities for his children. For the Nava family, it was extremely important to maintain the connection with their native language. For this reason, the Nava children spoke Spanish at home and enrolled in bilingual classes at school. Joel recognized the importance of speaking two languages and knew that it would open many doors for his children if they were able to master both Spanish and English, which they did with hard work.  Joel firmly believes that if you work hard, it is easy to obtain the life you desire in the United States. In 2018, Joel became a U.S. citizen, an achievement that he is very proud of, as he believes this country offers endless opportunities to those who work hard.

Joel spent the first several years after his family moved to the U.S. working as a manual laborer, including in irrigation and in the aluminum industry. After a few years in Houston, the Nava family moved to Bryan, which Joel describes as “a paradise” for its friendly people, abundant sense of community, and multiple avenues for success. For 21 years, Joel worked with National Oil Varco (NOV), a Navasota-based company that specializes in manufacturing oil pipes.  When the coronavirus pandemic hit in 2020, it brought massive layoffs to the company.  Joel decided to retire and spend more time with his wife, creating a garden oasis together.  Sadly, his wife died not long after he retired, but Joel honors her legacy by keeping their garden going and spending time with their children and grandchildren.

Although Joel has a good grasp of English in terms of reading and writing, his conversational skills prohibited him from being fully independent in everyday tasks. He relied heavily on his brother and children to assist him in grocery shopping, interacting with customer service representatives and other tasks. Frustrated by this dependency on others, Joel decided to start working as an Uber driver so that he could engage in more conversation with English speakers. As an Uber driver, Joel has been able to meet a wide range of people, many of whom commend Joel’s commitment to learning English and respond delightedly when he offers Spanish lessons in return for English conversations on his rides.

Joel learned about BIIN’s English classes as many immigrants do — from “El Maestro,” José Antonio Caraballo, on his Spanish-language radio show — and decided to enroll in June 2022.  While this was the first term that he joined the English classes at BIIN, Joel proved to be a star student, very dedicated to learning all that he could and making progress week by week. During class, Joel often asks questions. He also doesn’t hesitate to stay after class, to seek further explanation or help with pronunciation and spelling from his teachers, summer interns Sydney Williams and Zach Jones. The classes BIIN provides, in conjunction with all of Joel’s efforts to engage in conversations outside of the classroom, have been a huge help;  sustained practice  has elevated Joel’s understanding and confidence about speaking English. Joel looks forward to taking more English classes with BIIN, and he is excited to get back in the classroom this fall to further his skills!

Not only has Joel enjoyed the benefits of immersing himself in U.S. culture, but he is deeply proud of his children’s achievements as well.  While his youngest daughter is still in college at Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas, his other children have successful careers and have started families, much to Joel’s delight.  When he is not tending to his beautiful garden, Joel spends as much time as he can with his grandchildren.  He also makes frequent trips to Mexico, where he enjoys spending weeks in secluded mountain villages with friends, embracing nature and simplicity.  However, he is always thankful to return to the States after his trips and to the comforts of the life he and his family have created in Bryan.

Joel is grateful for the chance to practice English with his peers and to meet new people in the process.  Besides bringing positive and enduring energy to the Brazos Valley community, Joel Nava has been a wonderful addition to BIIN’s community of English language learners.

Thanks to intern Sydney Williams for co-teaching the intermediate Conversational English class in summer 2022 and for crafting this portrait of Joel Nava.